People in coun­tries along the Mediterranean Sea not only have a lower inci­dence of heart dis­ease, but are also less likely to get can­cer than those liv­ing in North European and North American coun­tries. This prompted researchers to review recent lit­er­a­ture and deter­mine if the wide array of com­po­nents present in the Mediterranean diet influ­ences the risk of can­cer.

An arti­cle, pub­lished in the jour­nal BMC Surgery, inves­ti­gates the rela­tion­ship between can­cer risk and dif­fer­ent com­po­nents present in foods that are typ­i­cal of the Mediterranean diet: olive oil, fruits, veg­eta­bles, seafood, whole grains, and wine.

Experimental and human cel­lu­lar stud­ies sug­gest that olive oil intake may reduce the risk of breast, prostate, colon and diges­tive tract can­cers. Meta-analy­sis of 19 stud­ies fur­ther revealed that the amount of olive oil con­sumed also affects the risk of can­cer, with can­cer inci­dence decreas­ing when olive oil intake is high. The researchers reported that the pro­tec­tive action of olive oil, which pos­si­bly causes the death of can­cer cells and inhibits car­cino­genic path­ways, may be due to the pres­ence of two health pro­mot­ing com­po­nents — tyrosol and hydro­cy­ty­rosol.

GUARDA ANCHE: The Health Benefits of Olive Oil

Fruits and veg­eta­bles, which form an inte­gral part of the Mediterranean diet, are among the rich­est sources of can­cer pro­tec­tive com­po­nents, accord­ing to the authors of the arti­cle. These include glu­cosi­no­late in Brussels sprouts, cab­bage and other cru­cif­er­ous veg­eta­bles; ascor­bic acid, antho­cyanins, fla­vanones, hydrox­ycin­namic acid and polyphe­nols in cit­rus fruits; lycopene in toma­toes; and dietary fiber, allium com­pounds, polyphe­nols, sele­nium, pro­tease inhibitors, dithi­olth­iones, vit­a­min C, vit­a­min E, and carotenoids present in many fruits and veg­eta­bles. Laboratory stud­ies show that these com­po­nents pre­vent pro­lif­er­a­tion of can­cer cells, inhibit cell-sig­nal­ing, induce cell-cycle arrest, pre­vent cell dam­age by ultra vio­let rays, and inter­fere with other can­cer-related path­ways.

Another advan­tage of the Mediterranean diet in reduc­ing risk of can­cer comes from the low con­sump­tion of red and processed meats, which con­tain can­cer-caus­ing poly­cyclic aro­matic hydro­car­bons, N‑nitroso com­pounds, and het­e­ro­cyclic amines. According to the researchers, fish and seafood con­sumed instead of meat have anti-car­cino­genic prop­er­ties that may reduce risk of can­cer.

Limited intake of refined grain prod­ucts by pop­u­la­tions on the Mediterranean diet may decrease risk of thy­roid, stom­ach, colon, and upper diges­tive sys­tem can­cers. High fiber intake from whole grain foods that are fre­quently con­sumed may pre­vent can­cer as it increases fecal bulk, decreases tran­sit time, pro­vides sati­ety and increases pro­duc­tion of short-chain fatty acids. Fermentation of dietary fiber by bac­te­ria in the large intes­tine may also reduce risk of colon can­cer, accord­ing to the authors of the study.

Finally, the glass of wine accom­pa­ny­ing the Mediterranean meal is rich in resver­a­trol, a com­pound that may reduce the risk of can­cer by pre­vent­ing tumor for­ma­tion, inhibit­ing can­cer cell growth, inter­fer­ing with can­cer path­ways and caus­ing the death of can­cer cells.

The take-home mes­sage: Eat fruits, veg­eta­bles, whole grain cere­als, and seafood; drink some wine, and use olive oil as the main source of fat in your diet to decrease your risk of both can­cer and heart dis­ease.



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